The world famous Rosslyn Chapel of Da Vinci Code fame has its own ale, available in the gift shop. It is produced by local brewery Stewarts and makes for a nice souvenir of a visit to the chapel.
My first taste was, admittedly, watery but subsequent sips of the beer were nicer. It is not strong tasting at all, so very easy to drink. There are no complex flavours, just a good light, hoppy taste, which is pleasant enough. There are no risky flavours, which you increasingly find with Scottish craft beers. If you just want an unfussy beer and no funky, different tastes this is a good choice. A solid beer.
The rear of the bottle label explains the story of the Baron of Rosslyn and hence the name of the ale. It also states that your purchase of this beer will contribute to the conservation of the chapel:
You can have your bottle of ale packaged up in one of the branded Rosslyn Chapel paper bags:
Stewart Brewing is located just a couple of miles away from the chapel. They have been in business since 2004 and produce a large range of beers, many of which you will find in Edinburgh pubs.
Edzell Castle's most striking feature is the walled garden. It is a beautiful arrangement of decorative hedges and flowers. The castle dates from the 1500s. It is located just outside the village of Edzell, about 5 miles north of Brechin, in the Angus region of Scotland.
Here are 5 reasons you should visit:
1. Glorious Garden
The garden is a delight. It was created in 1604 and consists of a very neat arrangement of hedges, some with immaculate patterns. Climb the stairs in the ruined tower to get the best views of the garden and then go for a wander on the perfectly trimmed lawn.
2. Summer House
This is the cutest place you could ever dream of spending summer evenings. That is exactly what the Lindsay family did when the castle was their home and you can go inside to get an idea of what that was like. Do not miss the spiral staircase taking you up to the second floor.
3. The Resident Peacocks
As you explore the grounds of the castle you will have the peacocks to keep you company. They are quite used to people and might even put on a magnificent display of their feathers.
4. Flower Compartments
The walls of the garden have niches that are filled with flower boxes that create a pretty display and enhance the already breathtaking garden.
5. Fine Stone Sculpture
The garden walls are also adorned with stone carvings that portray the Seven Cardinal Virtues, the Seven Liberal Arts and Classical Gods. It is incredible that they have survived in reasonable condition after more than 400 years.
How to get there
Edzell Castle is a 10 mile cycle from Laurencekirk, the closest train station. Or cycle from Montrose station, about 13 miles. My travel feature about cycling to Glen Esk has a map with directions to the castle.
Interested in Scottish Castles?
Try a visit to Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland: 10 Reasons to visit Dunrobin Castle
This is an amazing drink, a taste sensation to be savoured. Big Raspberry Dog Chew comes from Stirlingshire. It is a high end beer with a price tag more appropriate to a bottle of wine, but for an occasional treat and a chance to try something truly unique it is worth it.
Fallen Brewery operates out of the old train station in Kippen. At time of writing they offer 16 different beers that cater for almost every taste.
Big Raspberry Dog Chew is something very special. It has a high price tag, high alcohol content and delivers a flavour combination of raspberry and salted caramel.
The price might put you off, but trust me- it is worth it. You could drink it over two nights to get value for money. This is one of the most amazing and delicious beers I have ever tasted.
Read my review of Light Freight, also by Fallen Brewing
Innerpeffray Library, founded in 1680, was the first free lending library in Scotland. It is a fascinating place where you are encourage to handle and explore the book collection. An easy 8.4 mile cycle from Gleneagles train station will take you to the library. If you fancy going further there is the option to continue to Loch Turret.
Take a train to Gleneagles
This cycle route can be done as a day trip from central Scotland. Direct trains from Glasgow to Gleneagles take around 50 minutes. From Edinburgh it takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes, changing trains in Stirling. Some of these trains requirebicycle reservations.
Gleneagles station was beautifully restored for the 2014 Ryder Cup. It is worth spending a few minutes looking around.
On my train there were four bicycles in a space meant for just two. One of the cyclists addressed the group, "where you all going?" We all called out our stops and then arranged the bikes in order of station arrival.
One of the guys said, "I don't mind moving as long as me coffee doesn't spill." He was jittery on caffeine and held up a broken spoke and asked "has anybody got a spare spoke?"
Then the conductor came into the carriage and called out "Tickets please you lovely people, you."
Leaving Gleneagles station it is necessary to cross the A9, but there is a pedestrian island in the middle to make it easy to cross. From here you can cycle along the pavement that takes you onto the slip road for Auchterarder.
The approach to the town takes you past imposing Victorian villas and a superb view of the Ochil Hills.
Auchterarder has the longest high street in Scotland, so enjoy the novelty of cycling along it. It is 1.5 miles long with a good mix of independent shops. The fruit shop had an enticing display of produce and I bought some local strawberries.
There was a little queue in the shop, so I overheard some of the conversations. An elderly lady said to the shop owner, "The weather's to get worse at the weekend".
"Oh well, something to look forward to," was the reply, said with a moan and a sigh.
A woman had a child strapped to her back and the elderly woman asked, "is she not heavy on your back dear?"
The woman replied, "I know. I feel like an African mother with her on my back."
The elderly woman then said, with great conviction, "I can assure you dear, you are not."
When I was served I was asked about my cycling trip and the shop owner said "happy cycling!"
Fields of Corn
I took the B8062 towards Crieff. It is a twisty up and down road, but there are no big hills. I stopped to watch the corn blowing in the wind, a peaceful and mesmerising sight. When there is a gust of wind over the corn it has the same movement as an ocean wave and ripples its way across the field.
When Kinkell bridge comes into view you will want to pause and take in the postcard perfect scene. This charming bridge dates from 1793 and you get to ride across it and take in the fine view of the River Earn. This is one of those places that makes cycling in Scotland such a pleasure.
Soon after the bridge you will arrive at Innerpeffray library. I did not know what to expect from this place. I did wonder if it would be nothing more than a room of books in locked cabinets. It turned out to be something very special and I ended up overwhelmed and moved by how fascinating it is. This is a place that everyone should make an effort to visit.
Choose a book
There are about 5000 books in the library and the passionate staff actively encourage you to dig in and take a good look at them.
A volunteer struck up a conversation with me and asked, "What is your area of interest?"
I plucked a subject off the top of my head, "natural history."
The volunteer then handed me a catalogue and showed me the pages of book titles for natural history, "choose one and I will bring it to you."
I thought this was incredible because normally the books inside historic buildings, be they castles or stately homes, are out of bounds to casual visitors.
I found a book that I liked the sound of in the catalogue: The Historie of Four Footed Beasties. It had been published in 1607 and is a remarkable book of illustrations of animals, including mythical creatures with the heads of men that were believed to exist at that time.
The volunteer turned to a page to show me something that looked like a lion with a man's head. The man had a moustache and neat hairstyle that made me think of a second world war RAF pilot. The volunteer said, "looks like someone who would say tally-ho."
I loved leafing through these books in this room with its huge arched window letting the light flood in. It felt like a privilege to be here.
People had come from all over Scotland to use this library and I had a look at the 'borrowers' ledger' which is a handwritten record of all who borrowed books between 1747 and 1968 when the library ceased lending.
The library was originally housed in a tiny upstairs room of the adjacent sixteenth century chapel. This had been the family chapel of the Drummonds where they started to lend books from their private collection. In later years they built the present library onto the end of the chapel.
You can go inside this chapel and see the tiny room where the books were once kept. There is also the remains of a painted ceiling, featuring a sun with a face.
You should also take a look at the really beautiful and poignant gravestone located in one of the alcoves. It was carved by a mason for his wife and features the couple with their arms linked. There are also carvings of their ten children that had died before them. The detail in the clothing and faces is incredible.
Towser the Wonder Cat
If you want to do a bit more cycling you can continue to Crieff (5 miles) and then take the road up to Loch Turret, a water reservoir (another 5 miles).
After you pass through Crieff you take a minor road that passes the Glenturret distillery, home to Famous Grouse, one of the most recognised whisky brands in Sotland. Even if you don't have time for a distillery tour you should stop to pay your respects to Towser. This cat caught an incredible 28,999 mice in its lifetime of 24 years. This earned her a Guiness World Record and there is a small statue of her at the distillery.
Why not pick up a souvineer in the distillery shop? There is a nice pack of minatures, featuring three different varieties of Famous Grouse.
The road to Loch Turret is very steep and requires a lot of effort to get to the top. There were lots of sheep and lambs wandering around during my visit. A farmer called out to me, "how are you doing?!"
There is a gate across the road that you must open and close in order to continue onwards. The road surface gets increasingly brokenand bumpy.
There are superb views back towards Crieff and you are surrounded by lush, green hills.
The loch is hemmed in tightly by hills, looking particularly moody with low cloud during my visit. It is quite a wild place with rocks and scree on the hills and noisy seagulls swooping overhead.
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The best thing about all this effort to cycle up here is that the return trip is a fast downhill adrenaline rush.
Trains to Gleneagles are infrequent and a bicycle reservation is sometimes required, so this cycle route requires a bit of advanced planning.
It is about 18 miles one-way from Gleneagles station to Loch Turret. You can return the same way or alter your return journey using some of the alternative quiet roads back towards Auchterarder. Make sure that you allow time to visit Innerpeffray Library as this is a unique and special experience.
Food and drink is just as important to the travel experience as the scenery, history and visitor attractions. There has been a huge growth in craft beer producers in Scotland and I always try to find a local beer in the areas that I visit. Tempest Brewing Co. is located in Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders and they produce a wide range of exciting and innovative drinks. The Borders Railway makes it easy to visit their retail shop.
Having taken many trips on the Borders Railway to Tweedbank I noticed sings for Tempest Brewing Co. at the station. I decided to follow the signs into a nearby industrial estate to pay a visit to their shop.
The shop is located within the brewery. There is a rather functional entrance, distinguished only by the signage outside the door. When I went inside a staff member welcomed me and directed me past the stores of beer barrels to a small office area where there is a fridge filled with bottles of the entire Tempest range. I was excited to see everything in one place, as supermarkets and shops usually have just a selection of the range on offer. The shop also sells the clothing range, which includes cycling tops.
Tempest is one of my favourite craft beer producers. I love all of their creations because they use innovative flavour combinations that make this a unique and exciting product. They even have a beer for cyclists.
During my visit the staff were very excited because Tempest had just won 7 awards at the Scottish Beer Awards, including Scottish Brewery of the Year.
I bought half-a-dozen bottles of beers and stuffed them into my panniers to try them out when I got home. The member of staff who served me was particularly enthusiastic about Marmalade on Rye. He said he just loved it and described it as 'so moreish.' I couldn't agree more. It is another delicious creation from Tempest.
There are many exciting cycling routes in the Scottish Borders and taking the train to Tweedbank is one of the best ways to access them. With Tempest Brewing Co. just a few minutes walk or cycle from the station it would be foolish not to pop in and take back some fine craft beers.
An easy to access 7 mile traffic-free cycle route transports you to the pretty town of Dollar and the spectacularly located Castle Campbell.
Hop on the train to Alloa
Convenient rail access makes this an easy day trip from central Scotland. Direct trains from Glasgow to Alloa take around 55 minutes. From Edinburgh it takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes with a brief change of trains at Stirling.
The final 12 minutes of the journey between Stirling and Alloa is very scenic. Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument loom into view and there is a panorama of the Ochil Hills.
This outlook onto the hills is what makes this cycle path special. Route 767 is signed from Alloa station, so you can quickly leave behind the large car park, huge supermarket and uninspiring surroundings.
The Devon Valley Railway closed to passengers in 1964 and now you can cycle where there were once train tracks. It must have been a treat sitting in a carriage with these views of the hills. It is just as good on a bicycle and during my visit the hills had blobs and lines of mist that added to their mystical beauty.
A photographer had his tripod setup alongside the path to capture the scene- there is something about hills with mist that stirs your emotions. Later I spotted a robin hopping from branch to branch and low flying blackbirds crossed from one end of the path to the other. A friendly horse strolled up to the fence and I gave him a pat.
There are some remnants of the railway to look out for. Bridges are the most obvious, but there is also a gradient post with the black writing still very clearly announcing "1 in 436." And at Dollar the cycle route sweeps alongside the remains of the gently curving platform, now with patches of moss.
Possibly the most impressive relic is at Glenfoot, near Tillicoultry, where the pillars are all that remain of a dismantled bridge. The old track bed, raised above the surrounding fields, follows on from the old bridge with a backdrop of forest and steeply rising green hills. It is magnificent and a poignant reminder of a once extensive rural rail network.
A Moment in Nature
Autumn is a perfect time to experience this route because it is thick with trees that turn golden. The air is fresh and earthy from the fallen leaves that crunch when your tyres run over them. At one point a shower of leaves fell and some hit off my head. It was a magical moment in nature. I happened to be there at that exact time when these leaves detached from the tree.
The route provides access to Stirling Mills Outlet Shopping Village where there are retail chains and somewhere to get a coffee. Despite a large number of cycle racks it is a place geared to car drivers where they can park up and then walk around a pedestrianised "village" of retail units, designed to mimic a high street. I found it boring and lacking in atmosphere, so I would recommend pushing on to Dollar, which is much more pretty and has a real high street.
Dollar is characterised by neat gardens, cottages and Victorian villas. The most distinctive feature in the town is the burn that runs down the middle of two streets. It is tree-lined and crossed by stone bridges.
There is a small clock tower, a memorial to a doctor, William Spence. It has a plaque that pays tribute to 'his skill and kindness of heart.'
Coffee and Cake
The High Street is well stocked with a deli, baker, bridal shop, bathroom shop, antique and gift shop. I recommend Cafe Des Fleurs for a coffee and snack. I had a really good, strong cappuccino and a moist lemon drizle cake. Next time I would love to try the 'special hot chocolate' that has a tantalising description in the menu- 'with a layer of delicious melting confectionery.' The interior is vintage style with mismatched furniture and side tables made from old travelling trunks.
To the Castle
The castle is signed from the town, but be prepared for the ridiculously steep road. This road will test the toughest of cyclists and I had to walk the last part of it.
Having seen a great many of Scotland's castles I feel that each castle needs to have something unique about it to make it memorable for me. With Castle Campbell it is the location above Dollar Glen that is the standout feature. From the approach road the view of the fortress, peaking from the tree tops is a moment you will always remember.
The Campbell family once owned a large number of castles and estates in Scotland, choosing the method of strategic marriages to acquire this wealth. This castle, once named Castle Gloom, was their main stronghold in the lowland region. It dates from the 1400s.
There is a lot of fun to be had exploring the staircases, tower house and gardens. It is not a large castle and will not take very long to visit every nook and cranny.
From up here you can see as far as the River Forth, the thick woods of Dollar Glen in the foreground. On the other side of the tower it is completely different with the Ochil Hills looking quite barren in comparison.
There is a slit window in the castle's toilet closet that allows you to hear a nearby waterfall and birdsong, a clear reminder of a peaceful location that is at odds with the castle's owners expectation of being attacked.
I loved the gardens where there is a lawn with picnic benches, gorgeous flowers and buzzing insects. This is a place to spend some time relaxing.
Outside the castle entrance there are walking trails into Dollar Glen. I took a steep staircase into the depths of this beautiful world of trees, waterfalls and wildflowers. Spending longer in this glen is a reason for me to return here one day.
How to get here
Take a train to Alloa (details are at the beginning of this blog). Route 767 is signed from the train station. Google maps is not correct for the beginning of the route as it does not have the bridge over the railway, so my advice is took for the Route 767 signs around the station and just follow these.
The cycle path is mostly tarmac and totally flat. It will not take long to cover the 7 miles to Dollar. It is a further mile to reach Castle Campbell by way of a very, very steep road.
Alloa is home to William Brothers Brewing Company, so why not try to sample one of their beers after your ride? One of my favourites is Fraoch Heather ale and you can read my review of this.
Enjoy cycling old railway lines? Why not try the Edinburgh to Penicuick route?
Read my blog about the Edinburgh to Penicuick cycle route
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.